Thursday, April 14, 2011

An Archbishop Talks Straight Marriage----And It's Not Very Pastoral Either

Archbishop Sheehan of Santa Fe needs to think about the fact the woman in the background didn't get the marriage thing right at first.  And God said it was good.

I read Jamie Mansons' latest post with a great deal of interest because she describes a letter from Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe which seemed sort of out of character for Sheehan.  Archbishop Sheehan was the bishop who stated during the Notre Dame/Obama fiasco that a majority of US bishops disagreed with the combative tactics of some of their brothers.  His was a very rare critical voice during that time frame.  So I decided I would look up his actual pastoral letter, which was apparently read in all parishes, in order to ascertain if Jamie was off base, or if Archbishop Sheehan was channeling a different Sheehan.  The following are the six main points he deals with when it comes to shacking up, civil marriage, and divorce and remarriage without an annulment: 

Christ our Lord loves all these people and wishes to save them - not by ignoring their sin, or calling evil good, but by repentance and helping them to change their lives in accordance with His teaching. We, as His Church, must do the same. In accord with this, I would remind you of the following:

1. People in the above three situations cannot receive the Sacraments, with the important exception of those who agree to live chastely (“as brother and sister”) until their situation is regularized. Of course, those in danger of death are presumed to be repentant. (The ultimate escape clause for poor pastoral teaching. When you are on death's door you are presumed to agree with us, so you are forgiven.)

2. These people may not be commissioned as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, not only because of scandal, but even more because one commits the sin of sacrilege by administering a Sacrament in the state of mortal sin.  (We have a lot of priests and bishops committing sacrilege rather than just saying Mass,)

3. Nor are such people to be admitted to the role of sponsor for Baptism or Confirmation, as is clearly stated on the Archdiocesan Affidavit for a Sponsor. It is critical for the sponsor to be a practicing Catholic - and can anyone be seriously called a practicing Catholic who is not able to receive the sacraments because they are living in sin? (No, but I guess one can be considered a serious priest or bishop.)

4. When it comes to other parish ministries and organizations, I feel it best to leave these situations to the judgment of the pastor. Prudence is needed, avoiding all occasions of scandal. We must see their involvement in the parish as an opportunity to work urgently to bring such people to repentance and the regularization of their lifestyle. (Oh, if only we laity were given permission from our bishops to take the same license with our clerical caste.)

5. Many of these sins are committed out of ignorance. I ask that our pastors preach on the gravity of sin and its evil consequences, the 6th and 9th Commandments of God, and the sacramental nature and meaning of Christian marriage. Our catechetical programs in our parishes - children, youth, and adult – must clearly and repeatedly teach these truths. (They are opinions formulated over time, starting in the twelfth century.)

A Church wedding does not require some lavish spectacle and entertainment costing vast sums of money (Indeed, how often we have seen the most costly weddings end in divorce in but a few months or years!). While beauty and joy should surround a Christian wedding, we must remind everyone that it is a sacrament, not a show. (This is all true, maybe Catholicism should consider the 'moonie' solution. It would save everybody a lot of money.)

6. Those who are married outside the Church because of a previous union are urged to seek an annulment through our Marriage Tribunal. If it can be found that the first marriage lacked some essential quality for a valid marriage, the Tribunal can grant an annulment. Your pastor can help someone start a marriage case for this purpose. It is important for such couples to continue to pray and get to Mass even though they may not receive Communion, until their marriage can be blest in the Church. (What difference does this make if one has already been more or less consigned to hell for living in a state of 'perpetual' sin.)


I guess Jamie was right and Archbishop Sheehan is channeling a different version of himself.  Perhaps he needed to prove to his brother bishops that he was at least on board with their marriage crusade.  At least he didn't attack gays, and he actually put the onus on straights.  That alone puts him on the margins of the USCCB.  It's so much easier to attack those silent closeted gays, than all those openly divorced straight couples with their mixed families of children.

On the other hand, just in numbers alone, these Church teachings on divorce and marriage have far greater impact on the pews than the teachings on gay marriage.  I'm sure there was more than one priest that really really wished he didn't have to read this letter to his flock.  Most of these six points have been ignored for decades by most priests.  I can think of at least a half a dozen couples who went through  pre cana classes in a state of mortal sin and went to the altar in the same state. Does that invalidate their Catholic wedding by making it a sacrilegious event?  

There is a difference between teaching and dictating.  Jesus taught, the Church dictates.  Jesus stated pretty obvious facts like the one about a man committing adultery in his heart when he lustfully looks at another woman.  Any therapist can tell you that for most people, that is indeed a fact and one of the early steps to a failed relationship with one's current spouse.  If this kind of thing is truly mortally sinful, it's not because of the sexual connotation, it's because it violates a sacred relationship.  Hence Jesus also talks about hardness of heart as the reason for Moses allowing divorce. Jesus said nothing about hardness of penis', but the Church takes this teaching about relationship and love, and turns it into a whole host of dictatorial doctrines about correct sex and where to put aroused genitalia.  And these dictates have had a harm ratio that is far more devastating for women and children especially when they are coupled with Catholicism's dictates on gender roles.

I keep wondering why it is that the hierarchy has insisted that people be perfect Catholics before they can access the sacraments. (except for priests)  I've come to the conclusion they don't believe sacramental grace actually works the way Jesus said it would, as balm for healing souls and hearts.  I suspect this failure to believe and trust has an awful lot to do with the fact that in their dictated sacramental lives it doesn't work for them.  And then things get all convoluted and the assumption is it won't work for laity either,  unless laity are living perfect Catholic lives, and then it doesn't matter if it doesn't work.  By definition no one would ever know the difference. Sinners because they can't test sacramental truth, and faithful perfect Catholics because it wouldn't matter if nothing happened.

This is so different from Native tradition in which Native healers expect their prayers and ceremonies to be reality tested.  Apparently Catholicism is above and beyond any kind of reality testing.  No wonder it's getting so unreal.



  1. Good question: Why should people who are 'living in sin' attend Mass. Having been in that situation myself, I always thought it was so the church could heap more guilt upon the 'irregular' members. To make it that much more clear ['in a special way' as it were] that they are in fact excluded. To show the 'regular' members what it is to be excluded from that special status as a warning against straying off the path dictated by the church. This in the same way as those members who have Celiac's Desease and can't for that reason eat anything made of wheat must be excluded from communion as an example to the rest of the church of the loss of the ability to take communion. To my mind it would be far simpler to allow the host to be made of something other than wheat in such cases. But Christ used wheat I guess and so must we...

    To the church it isn't about saving individuals. It is about saving a group and the remainder be damned. Almost as if some form of predestination is to be believed.

  2. The extraordinary thing about the opposition to cohabitation before marriage is that it is a relatively modern idea, and is one of the many ways that the Church has redefined marriage. Salzmann & Lawler clearly outline in their book "The Sexual Person" how for centuries, the Church had nothing at all to do with marriage.

    Marriage was a private arrangement, which began with a couple living together in a sexual relationship. When the churches began to get involved, it was to solemnize the public celebration that concluded the marriage process - not to begin it.

    In my view, the way in which the Church gradually inserted its own involvement in marriage as a religious obligation was yet another of the ways in which the Church sought to extend its power over the ignorant and uneducated laity. By steadily extending the realm of sin, they were able to extend the necessity to be absolved by the clergy - and increased the demand for the indulgences they could sell.

  3. This subject of divorced and remarried and the Church's annulment process really gets me sick to my stomach. Why? Because it is absolutely utter nonsense and has nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus Christ which are about forgiveness and mercy, not pharisaic condemnation or burdens.

    I believe this annulment process is the real big reason why so many people are going to other Christian denominations. Many are simply just too embarrassed of the Roman Catholic Church's inhuman and unmerciful stance with regards to human sexuality and failure in relationships.

    The "policy" of the RCC is a hypocritical one at that as well, as the priests are disconnected from the reality that people suffer under such a policy of Guilt labeling certain people and their situations as living in mortal sin and excluding them from the Eucharist and from serving the Church. This is such a divisive and evil tactic that only alienates people and drives them away from the RCC and perhaps from any Church.

  4. It seems to me that the Bishops contradict their own theology with these kinds of exclusionary assertions. When I was in College, our theology teacher taught us that a sacrament was an outward sign of an inward grace -i.e. - the celebration of a reality that already is. We also learned that the healing sacraments are Baptism, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick and EUCHARIST! The implication is quite clear and can be posed as a question. Why would The Church want to deprive the healing sacrament of Eucharist from those who perhaps need healing the most? Divorce is a difficult and devastating enough process for anyone to go through without adding a layer of further alienation by the very community that proclaims to be a leavening agent of Healing and Light in the world. The theological cognitive dissonance in this situation is breathtaking. Being that we are no longer the naive, uneducated laity that we perhaps used to be, it is easy to see why so many just disregard such contradictory theological nonsense.

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